Working from home: the backlash

Raging Bull with Chatterbox

Two reasons why I might want to work from home occasionally

What is it with women? New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sent a memo to her employees telling them that she is going to ban working from home. By the way, she has a small child. Predictably, this has kicked off a storm of negative reactions, with many people saying that it’s a step backwards for the high-tech company.

Now, British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has weighed into the debate. She doesn’t like working from home either. She has one son, now nearly grown up. Shulman’s mother supposedly went back to her writing job within two weeks of giving birth.

Shulman’s argument is that she likes her team to be around. In a UK national newspaper over the weekend, she also says this: ‘Some of the best stories in any publication I have worked on have come out of a glancing remark somebody has made about their night before, or a piece of gossip, or a joke.

‘The daily download of chatter within the office feeds into what we produce in an incalculable way.’

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, there is some truth in this. But it’s hardly a reason to demand that your employees sit every day in the office, just so that they can contribute to a piece of gossip or have an occasional bright idea overheard by others.

As a working mother, I really could list a number of reasons why working from home would help me a great deal. I don’t work from home, so you know, mostly because I’ve been told that I can’t have certain software applications outside of the office for security reasons. I honestly do believe there is a way around this, but I’ve not wanted to push it.

I can tell you this, however: if my employer gave me the right to work from home, even occasionally, I would work that much harder to keep the job. I would be loyal and I’d be happier, which I believe would ultimately make me more productive.

I used to work from home two days a week – and I got quite a bit done. I also never used it as an excuse to do nothing. I’d argue that I was as productive as someone in the office, maybe even more so.

This ‘gossip’ that Alexandra Shulman talks about can also be detrimental to productivity. Just because you’re in the office, sitting in front of your computer, doesn’t mean you are participating in work conversations or even doing actual work. You could be chatting to friends on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed for pleasure. You could be incessantly talking to the person next to you about your weekend or the night before, keeping both of you from doing anything at all.

We need to get away from the idea that being in the office somehow means that we are doing more work than someone who is sitting on their couch or at their dining table.

London mayor Boris Johnson said last summer that people might use the Olympics as an excuse to work from home and ‘open the fridge and hack off that bit of cheese’.

Hilarious, isn’t it? As if home workers do nothing more than sit around and snack on food. The reality is far more complex. Sure, you may take breaks at home but so do people in the office. I can’t tell you how many distraction techniques I can come up with.

And if you are going to be the type of person who likes to take advantage of people’s trust in you, the fact is that this won’t change whether you are in the office or not. You will always find a way to work the system to your advantage.

The best is to find a balance. Like drinking wine or eating cakes, it’s all about not doing too much of one or the other. I find that some working from home is complemented by time in the office – but this is my personal conclusion.

What I find most depressing about this debate is the fact that it’s being propagated, in part, by very successful women. You know what, let’s cut each other a break. Isn’t it enough that there are so very few women in high-level politics or holding down jobs as CEOs? There are two female chief executives in the FTSE 100 working today.

Couldn’t we be a bit more forgiving? Couldn’t women, who give birth and get lumbered with the child-rearing, recognise that working from home is not some evil offshoot of better technology but a fact of modern life?

Even if you’re a successful woman, who opts to go back to work two weeks after giving birth, leaving your child to your nanny, couldn’t you see that not everyone would want the same or even have the option of top-level care?

My dad, who is an engineer, once told me that he didn’t very much like working with the few women who made it in his profession, because they were often tougher and less forgiving than men. I kind of see his point now.

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5 Comments

Filed under motherhood, working life

5 responses to “Working from home: the backlash

  1. Cousin

    I read the article about the Yahoo CEO and I was insulted. At least give us the choice! I read she has a private nanny and daycare at her office! What a brat! Also, I’d like to interview her child 10 or 20 years from now and ask how he/she felt about her mother working full time. I love my mother more than anything and I know she has climbed mountains raising us but she worked full time during my school years. I must admit now as an adult that as annoying as it might have been at the time and I wouldn’t have gotten away with as much, it would have been nice to have her around more. Even if it was one or two days a week for her to pick us up from school or be there when we got home from school. I know how hard my mom worked in the office and at home. Despite being at work she was THERE and was on top of everything. But I know that was probably very stressful for her and having the flexibility to work at home could have lessened that stress.

    I completely agree about productivity not being directly correlated to environment. Hence, I am at work right now reading your blog and commenting on it! And I also have my list of avoidance routines (e.g., going to the restroom, walking around, chatting, washing my clean coffee mug) that I can manage to take up a significant amount of time during the work day. I think if you have paid your dues, received good reviews and worked at a company for a significant amount of time you should have the option to work from home.

    Great blog!

    • I hope to get a better balance one day. I don’t want the kids to look back and say, ‘But Mom was never there and never knew what was going on with me.’ It’s difficult. The whole thing is such a high-wire act. You work hard and try not to slip up. But we all do. We are only human. I just wish these super-human women would acknowledge that not everyone can just go back to work that easily, giving their child over to an endless stream of strangers with impressive qualifications. My chilcare is 50% of my salary. I work because I kind of have to and because I think it would be better for everyone in the long run.

  2. Great blog, Carla! I think women should be more forgiving and more supporting of each other. Totally agree with you. x

  3. When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added-
    checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I receive four emails with the same comment.

    Is there a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

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